The Need To Experiment
This topic contains 4 replies, has 1 voice, and was last updated by Yesterday’s Scout 3 weeks, 6 days ago.
August 22, 2014 at 9:58 am #29739
There have been a lot of comments about the effect on BSA membership numbers of both (a) turning away from “traditional values,” as by the decision to allow openly gay youth to be members; and (b) remaining a highly conservative organization with membership restrictions on girls, gays, and the godless. Some folks assert that efforts to modernize Scouting (as seen in other countries, in the Girl Scouts of the USA, and in last year’s change in membership standards in BSA) show that such efforts result in more membership loss and the growth of more conservative organizations. Other folks assert that it is precisely BSA’s restrictive, conservative policies that have resulted in damage to BSA’s reputation over a long period of time and a continuing loss of membership as society moves in a different direction.
Maybe somewhere in a vault in the bowels of BSA National Headquarters there is a report that shows what the real facts are.
But I would point out just a few things to consider:
- BSA membership has been declining steadily since its height in the early 1970s, at the same time that the population of the United States has been growing steadily.
- BSA membership was showing significant decline well before last year’s membership standards decision.
- In addition to new-ish conservative Scout-type organizations, there are also new-ish Scout-type organizations with inclusive policies, such as the Baden-Powell Service Association and Navigators USA.
- Despite that, BSA remains a very large national youth organization.
I could be wrong, but what that tells me is that it isn’t the membership policies themselves that are the problem. Aided by technology, the civil rights movement and other societal movements that have grown since the 1960s, and the growth of suburbia, American society has become much more diverse in almost every way. A wide variety of other activities for youth are available now that were rare, limited, or non-existent 50 years ago. The real problem is that BSA is still trying to run a monolithic program that is delivered the same way in every community everywhere in the United States and that is not greatly changed from the Scouting program of the 1950s. There continues to be a large (but shrinking) customer base for that all-or-nothing, no-deviation standard program. BSA is making almost no effort to experiment in or offer additional program delivery options (the Soccer and Scouting program being an exception) for its traditional, outdoor- and ideals-based program.
Think about this possibility: The current BSA program remains as it is now (allowing openly gay youth but not gay adults) and as currently planned (with a greater emphasis on Duty to God). Suppose that there are some units that want to experiment with different uniform styles. Why not establish one or more experimental uniforms with special standards for how they are worn and authorize those units to give it a try? Suppose that there are some units and chartered organizations that want to allow openly gay adult leaders. Why not form a new Council (not geography-based) or even a new subsidiary corporation (like Learning for Life) for those COs and units to operate under, separate from our existing councils and units? Suppose that there are some units that want to use an advancement scheme that is much closer to the requirements of the early years of Scouting, and other units that want to drop the traditional ranks and just use merit badges, service projects, and leadership experience. Why not set standards and authorize those units to give those alternatives a (carefully monitored) try? Suppose there are some Cub Scout packs and Boy Scout troops that want to include girls as members. Why not set up a new, separate Council for them and see how it works? As long as those experiments don’t change the mainstream program but just run parallel to (and don’t mix with) it, what could possibly be the harm in experimenting? And if successful, what could be the harm in BSA running a variety of parallel Scouting programs, each with the same core ideals but each with unique delivery features that attract different audiences?
Put another way, why doesn’t BSA take advantage of both its monopoly in Scouting in the United States and American diversity? Seems like a no-brainer to me.
August 22, 2014 at 7:55 pm #29749
Dan, even before the homosexual issue was bulldozed down our gullets by national. I suggested just what you wrote: establish a separate “Gay Scouts” like Learning for Life is a separate part of BSA. But no, the decision was made to inculcate acceptance, approval, and advocacy of homosexuality into our sons. Setting up separate councils might work but there is a social engineering aspect to this issue so I doubt any changes will be made.
I went to a “listening session” just prior to the vote. It soon became apparent that the professional Scouters weren’t there to listen to us – they expected us to listen to them. After all the feel-good rah-rah-ism they were trying to put out (and few of us were buying) the question was asked, how many units would be lost when BSA went gay. The answer was, “we’ll lose as many as we gain” leading me to realize the issue was numbers, not morality.
I still do not understand why you insist on ascribing political leanings to BSA. “Conservative”????
August 22, 2014 at 9:38 pm #29752
Hi, Yesterday! I don’t think “Conservative” is a dirty word. I think I am a Conservative in many ways, but Progressive in others. I don’t believe BSA itself as an organization has had any political leanings. But I think a lot of the folks associated with and supportive of BSA in the last couple of decades certainly have had conservative/Republican leanings. And that is because BSA, while not political, has embodied values that, as a society, we generally label as “conservative.” Things like strong moral values and duty to God and patriotism. Socially conservative leanings tend to get thrown in the same basket with politically conservative leanings, even if (as with BSA), social conservativism as an organization does not extend into the political arena.
August 22, 2014 at 9:44 pm #29753
This is a repost of a comment of mine from the blog article on Duty to God:
Hi, Yesterday. Right or wrong, I think that is where this will end up. Maybe five years, maybe ten. Openly gay people can serve in the US military. More and more states are approving gay marriage. That is the way society is headed and BSA won’t be able to withstand the pressure to change — particularly because BSA already opened the door halfway and there is no way to close it again, and BSA currently has no way to relieve the pressure.
Personally, I am in favor of opening the door all the way. BUT, I think BSA went about it the wrong way. I think that BSA’s anti-gay policy and the lengths that BSA went to in defending it (taking it all the way to the Supreme Court, and winning) was in effect a contract with its members and chartered organizations. I think BSA promised its COs and members that it would interpret “morally straight” in a particular way and would not bend to pressure. I think BSA was wrong to establish that policy and make that promise in the first place — but it was more wrong to break it, and to do it so suddenly, and to do it in a way that just drags out the controversy for several more years.
What BSA should have done, in my view, was to leave the traditional programs alone, but do what I am suggesting here: develop parallel Scouting programs that are truly Scouting and have the full imprimatur of the Boy Scouts of America, but that allow variations and experimentation in policies and program delivery. BSA already has the working model in the fully inclusive Exploring program. Those folks looking for a program that didn’t discriminate against gays (or girls, or atheists) would have other places in BSA to go and earn Eagle Scout, without disturbing the mainstream programs. I suspect that over time what are now the mainstream programs would shrink and become more church-focused, while the parallel programs would grow and be more diverse, and would become the “mainstream” Scouting programs. And there would have been no broken promises.
August 22, 2014 at 11:34 pm #29755
Yes, Dan, I think that would have been the way to go. But National seems to never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. They wanted to engage in social engineering and they did. I truly believe they wanted to alienate as many of us “old timers” as they could – get us to leave in disgust or in anger and then smile sanctimoniously and say, “We didn’t throw them out! They left of their own free will!” That is one reason I stay (not the only one, but one of them). They may throw me out, but I will not leave and let them say I left on my own.